Three days before the Scouts of Troop 8 and Troop 10 in Columbia were scheduled to depart for their two-week backpacking adventure at Philmont Scout Ranch in Northern New Mexico, their leaders received a disturbing phone call. A large wildfire had forced the cancellation of all backcountry treks.
The phone call came on Monday, June 4, 2018, and the 19 boys and seven adult leaders were scheduled to fly — with non-refundable airline tickets — to Denver on Thursday to make their way to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. The high adventure base annually draws Scouts with its rugged terrain and mountain treks.
Flynn Bowie, scoutmaster for Troop 10; Kirby Shealy, scoutmaster for Troop 8; and Joe Pope and Roy Laney, assistant scoutmasters for Troop 10, made a snap decision. “We decided we would go ahead and fly to Denver, and instead of driving south to Philmont toward the fires we would drive north,” says Joe. What followed was a two-week adventure in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana that included camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and a state park outside Cody, Wyoming.
Joe, who worked at Yellowstone for 8 years as a tour boat captain and fishing guide on Lake Yellowstone, took the lead in planning the trek. “That was like having our own personal expert on Yellowstone. They had the best guy possible as a leader on the trip,” says Flynn, who was not present on the trip. The trip would go down in the annals of Troop 10 as “JoeMont” and Troop 8 as “PhilNot.”
The joint contingent included 13 Scouts and six leaders from Troop 10, which is chartered to Eastminster Presbyterian Church on Trenholm Road, and six Scouts and one leader from Troop 8, chartered to Incarnation Lutheran Church on Devine Street.
“They had 26 people we had to feed, provide a place to sleep, and have something for them to do all day,” Flynn says. But when the group embarked they only had two or three days planned in advance.
“We didn’t have the whole trip planned when we left Columbia, so we had to call around and find the campsite where we were going to stay for the next two or three days,” Joe says. “The first week of the trip we were camping and planning at the same time.”
The food was a big part of it. Philmont was willing to sell the Scouts the backpacking meals they would have used on their trek, but the high-adventure base had no way of getting the food to the Columbia Scouts. So a retired professional Scouter from Columbia, Larry Parrish, who was volunteering at Philmont, took his day off and drove the food to the Denver Airport. “That saved the day right there,” Flynn says.
During the nearly two-week adventure, the Scouts and their leaders experienced whitewater rafting and float trips on the Snake and Yellowstone rivers, horseback riding in the Shoshone National Forest outside Cody and in the Custer Gallatin National Forest near Gardiner, Montana. They visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody and watched a rodeo. And lots of camping and hiking were included. Fortunately the refunds from Philmont covered the costs.
With 115 registered Scouts, Troop 10 is among the oldest and largest troops in South Carolina. Started in the 1920s, the troop has records of three Eagle Scouts from that era. The current troop was organized not long after Eastminster Presbyterian was built in 1951 and has been going since. More than 400 young men have earned the Eagle Scout rank while members of Troop 10.
Troop 8 is also one of the state’s oldest troops. The original troop was founded in 1914, just four years after the Boy Scouts of America was founded, at St. Steven’s Church and later re-chartered in 1947 at Incarnation Lutheran Church. The troop went inactive in the 1970s and was reorganized in late 1995. Much smaller than Troop 10, Troop 8 has varied between 18 to 27 Scouts for the past several years and has had 79 Scouts obtain the Eagle rank.
The two troops, like most traditional Boy Scout troops, really did not change when the Boy Scouts of America changed the Boy Scout program name to Scouts BSA in February 2019 and began allowing girls into the program. Scouts BSA is single gender with either all-girl or all-boy troops.
The Indian Waters Council of the Boy Scouts of America, of which Troops 8 and 10 are a part, finished 2019 with its third straight year of youth membership growth, with about 5,500 young people in 197 traditional packs, troops, crews, and posts, according to Council Scout Executive and CEO Doug Stone. “There are 84 traditional Scout troops, which include six girl troops that are simply amazing programs,” Doug says. “We believe the more people in this world who live up to the Scout Oath and Scout Law, the better. The more young people who accomplish the great tasks required of an Eagle Scout, the better!”
Both Troop 8 and 10 follow a very traditional boy-led program, and both scoutmasters say they are blessed with plenty of adult involvement. “But it also can be difficult to get out of the way and let the boys lead,” Flynn says.
Brian Barrow, 14, a Lower Richland High School student, is a Life Scout and the senior patrol leader for Troop 8. “The most challenging part of being the troop’s top leader is organizing everything, making sure everything is getting done, and being certain that everyone has something to do and no one is being left out.”
David Shealy, a senior at Dreher High School and the scoutmaster’s son, says his time as senior patrol leader at Troop 8 helped him become more confident about speaking in front of people. Being a Scout also has helped him in other areas of his life, he says. “If I’m in a group project at school, I can make sure that everything is getting done and is divvied up between everyone.”
The Scouting and leadership skills of the boys in both troops were put to the test during the 2018 PhilNot/JoeMont adventure.
Although they were not able to have the Philmont backpacking experience, they still wanted to recreate some of the same challenges. That included getting up at dawn to cook breakfast and getting everybody moving to the day’s programming, just like they would have at Philmont.
“We would go all day long, and sometimes we wouldn’t get back until after dark. The boys would cook supper and we might not be cleaned up until 9:30 p.m. or even later, and then we were back up at 6:30 a.m. to start the whole process over again,” says Joe. “We kept the Philmont crew leader and boy-led experience, so the boys had to run the whole operation of getting the food out, preparing it, cleaning up, and making sure everything stayed on track.”
They also saw lots of wildlife, including elk, buffalo, big horn sheep, eagles, moose, coyotes, marmots, foxes, and numerous bears. “We saw maybe 10 or 15 bears, which is the most I’ve ever seen,” says Joe.
Riley Elder, 17, a member of Troop 10, calls the trip miraculous. “It was a wonderful trip to be able to see the Tetons, Yellowstone, and all of those natural wonders of the West,” he says. His favorite part of the trip, however, was the geysers. “It’s kind of cliched, but Old Faithful is fascinating to see. You don’t think about it until you see it.” A senior at Richland Northeast High School, Riley is the troop’s newest Eagle.
And although the Scouts did not do any backpacking, as they would have at Philmont, they still hiked, a lot. “I think we were scheduled to hike about 68 miles at Philmont, and we ended up hiking 94 miles,” Joe says.
The boys also faced physical challenges. Kirby recalled one hike during which one of his Scouts was in charge. “We thought it was going to be six miles in the backcountry of Yellowstone around a lake with several thermal features. But it turned into nine miles, the temperature dropped 15 degrees, and it started raining sideways.”
That hike showed the need for preparation, Roy says, as it went from nice weather to brutally wet and cold very quickly.
Outdoor adventures are the staple of traditional Scout troops like Troop 8 and Troop 10. “Scouting is about the outdoors. It is about learning how to enjoy and protect our outdoor environment. So we get outside as often as possible,” adds Flynn.
Both troops have undertaken other high adventure treks, including the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base as well as going to Philmont in other years.
Troop 8 did a Sea Base adventure in 2019 that included learning how to sail and sleeping on the deck of their ship as well as adventures ashore on cays surrounding the sea of Abaco in the Bahamas.
Troop 10 also participated in a 2019 Sea Base trip. “We did the Keys Adventure with sailing, snorkeling, fishing, and time in Key West. I had never been in the Keys, so it was a lot of new stuff that I had never done,” says Life Scout Ryan Hamner, 14. A Scout for about three years, Ryan encourages other boys to give Scouting a try it. “You are going to have a lot of fun. And you’ll learn things that are essential to know.”
But not all outings are on the scale of Philmont or Sea Base. Like most troops, Troops 8 and 10 have outdoor programs just about every month. Troop 8’s recent activities have included biking the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, canoeing on Lake Jocassee, and backpacking on the Foothills Trail. Troop 10 has gone whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River in North Carolina, ridden the Virginia Creeper bicycle trail, and camped all over South Carolina and into North Carolina.
One of Scout Flynn Burgess’ favorite activities at Troop 8 is an annual ski outing to Winterplace Ski Resort in West Virginia. “We set up camp in one of the lodges, just air mattresses in the middle of the lodge. I think it is one of the best experiences I’ve had in Scouting,” he says. “Going skiing, sleeping in the lodge, waking up and walking right out onto the slopes is one of the most phenomenal experiences. And I don’t think you get that in any other organization.” A senior at Dreher High School whose father, Patrick, is an assistant scoutmaster, the 17-year-old recently completed his Eagle Scout rank.
Each troop attends summer camp every year, with Troop 10 favoring Camp Barstow, the local Scout camp on Lake Murray, while Troop 8 has ventured to nearby camps in Georgia and North Carolina.
Service projects are also an important part of each troop’s program. “Every time I turn around, Scouts are involved in doing something for the community,” says Scoutmaster Flynn, “whether it is through Scouting or through the school. It always seems to be the Scouts who are the ones out front.”
Much of that service comes through Eagle projects, a major service activity that a Scout must design and execute as part of attaining the top rank. Flynn recalls that one Scout built a platform for handicapped duck hunters designed to roll off the back of a truck and provide access to the marsh or the swamp for the hunter in a wheelchair.
One of Troop 8’s major service projects is its annual involvement in Incarnation Lutheran’s Octoberfest. The Scouts do everything from cooking to setting up tables. “I’m so thrilled they do that. It’s a great well-organized event, and it gives the Scouts the opportunity to give back to the church,” Kirby says.
“The thing I love the most about the Scouting program,” Kirby continues, “which we should probably do a better job of promoting, is that its mission is to build character by instilling values based on the Scout Oath and Law. Very few organizations really aim to develop young people to be competent, resilient servant leaders. The Oath and Law are good guideposts for a productive and fulfilling life, not just for Scouts but for everyone. I’m grateful to Scouting for what it has done for my son and for the dozens of other young people I have watched go through it.”